The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have come alive over the last three weeks, a direct correlation to their time spent during the bye week.
Since Tampa Bay took Week 5 off, the team is 2-1 and has scored 102 points. This offensive output—34 points per game—is a stark contrast to the way the team floundered before the break, scoring just over 20 points per game.
The offense is running smoothly with quarterback Josh Freeman throwing the ball more, and he’s spreading the ball around to multiple receivers on different routes of varying depth. Freeman looks just as comfortable—maybe more so—throwing deep as he does a short route.
It was Tampa Bay’s Week 8 game in Minnesota, however, where the Buccaneers took their biggest leap forward.
Freeman threw three touchdown passes in the win, but it was rookie running back Doug Martin that exploded for 135 yards and a score on the ground, and added 79 yards receiving and scored that way as well.
If the passing game and the ground game are moving the ball this well, this Tampa Bay offense could score a huge number of points in the second half of the season.
But the Buccaneers are focused on Week 9, a road game against the Oakland Raiders. Here’s what Tampa Bay has to do to win the game.
Stop Darren McFadden
Oakland running back Darren McFadden produced his second 100-yard rushing game of the season. He only averaged 3.9 yards per carry against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the workhorse back carried the ball 29 times for 114 yards.
McFadden only had two games this season where he’s carried the ball more than 20 times, and they both occurred in the last three weeks.
Oakland seems to be making a conscious effort to get him the ball more frequently, and statistics show that’s the right move. The Raiders are 9-2 when McFadden rushes for more than 100 yards.
This is good news for Tampa Bay, because the Buccaneers defense ranks sixth in the league against the run and has only allowed two 100-yard rushers this year.
It’s important for Tampa Bay to contain the run, just like it has all season, because Carson Palmer has thrown for 860 yards over the last three games and the Buccaneers are thin in the secondary.
Starting cornerback Aqib Talib is still serving a four-game suspension, and the other starter, Eric Wright, has been listed on the injury report this week. Wright missed practice Wednesday with an Achilles issue, but he practiced Thursday—at least in limited fashion—according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Overcome the Offensive Line Issues
Left guard Carl Nicks, possibly the best offensive guard in the NFL, was placed in injured reserve Tuesday.
Not only does this hurt because of the stature of Nicks, but it continues the trend of the degenerating offensive line in Tampa.
Davin Joseph, Tampa Bay’s starting right guard, was lost for the season during the preseason, and the Buccaneers have been shuffling linemen around due to depth-chart issues for the last few weeks.
Only left tackle Donald Penn and center Jeremy Zuttah are starting on the offensive line and have been doing so all season.
The Bucs are spending this week in practice not only game-planning for the Raiders, but trying to decide who will play for Nicks.
Whatever decision is made, Tampa Bay has to make the transition seamless. That’s because the Raiders have a tandem at defensive tackle that could wreak havoc.
Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly are monumental forces in the middle of Oakland’s defensive line. Not only are they both more than capable run- stoppers, but Seymour leads the Raiders in sacks.
Zuttah with Jamon Meredith and whoever fills in for Nicks will have to provide top-notch middle-of-the-line play against Seymour and Kelly for Tampa Bay’s offense to continue clicking.
Continue the Offensive Onslaught
Over the last three games, no quarterback in the NFL has thrown for as many yards as Josh Freeman.
Freeman put up 328 against the Kansas City Chiefs, 420 against the New Orleans Saints and 262 against the Minnesota Vikings. Accumulating 1,010 yards through the air in a three-week period is phenomenal, and Freeman must continue showing he’s bounced back from the 2011 season.
With nine touchdown passes and only one interception, Freeman is limiting mistakes and spreading the ball around well. His nine touchdown throws have gone to six different receivers.
If Freeman can keep this pace up, and the running game can continue to come along, Tampa Bay will score boatloads of points.